Investigative journalist Michael Hastings recently broke a story on BuzzFeed about an amendment that is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill. The amendment would “legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences.” Hasting reported that the amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon. He says the “tweak” to the bill would “neutralize” two other acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—which were passed in order “to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.” Rep. Mark Thornberry (R, Texas) and Rep. Adam Smith (D, Washington) are co-sponsors of the bipartisan amendment.
Hastings says that “the new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public.” One Pentagon official who is concerned about the amendment told Hastings, “It removes the protection for Americans. It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.” The official added that there are “senior public affairs” officers in the Department of Defense who would like to “get rid” of the Smith-Mundt Act “and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In a Mediaite piece last week, Josh Feldman wrote of how the US military has been looking for new ways to spread U.S. propaganda “on social media websites for a while now.” Feldman also made reference to an article that was published in Wired last July. In the article, Pentagon Wants a Social Media Propaganda Machine, Adam Rawnsley told of how the DoD “has been working on ways to monitor and engage in ‘countermessaging’ on social media sites like Twitter.”
According to Hastings, the Pentagon already spends about $4 billion dollars annually to “sway public opinion.”
Here’s something to chill you to the bone: Hastings reported that USA Today had recently published an article about the DoD having spent “$202 million on information operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.” Well, it appears that the reporters who worked on the USA Today article were targeted by “Pentagon contractors, who created fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in an attempt to discredit them.” (Read about that story here.)
One of Hastings sources on the Hill told him, “I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing.” The source added that the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”
The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.
In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.
The upshot, at times, is the Department of Defense using the same tools on U.S. citizens as on a hostile, foreign, population.
Is this how we want our tax dollars being spent—to produce propaganda aimed at us Americans to sway public opinion?
Congressmen Seek To Lift Propaganda Ban (BuzzFeed)
An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill. The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mark Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State. (Investment Watch Blog)